David Godlis New Photo Book Captures 1970s Miami Beach

On the cover of photographer David Godlis’ new book, Godlis Miami, is a striking woman with an even more striking stare. She wears a flowing, leopard-print caftan paired with a silk hair wrap and oversized white-rimmed sunglasses. She’s caught mid-step walking her tiny, shaggy dog. Behind her are a classic Chevy Nova and some tall palm trees that help frame the picture.

The year was 1974 when a 22-year-old aspiring photographer from New York was visiting Miami Beach. Over ten days, Godlis snapped 60 rolls of film. For decades, the images would remain largely unseen.

The now-seasoned photographer recently published Godlis Miami via Reel Art Press, which features 159 pages of photos from that fateful trip nearly 50 years ago.

“She’s not of the ilk of the other women in the book,” says Godlis speaking to New Times. “There was never a debate on what would be the cover if I ever did a Miami book. She was always going to be the cover girl.”

Godlis recalls the story of snapping the photo as if he was 22 again. He was in the area of Miami Beach near what is now the Bass, and he saw a woman with a small dog cross a parking lot. Something about her — be it her caftan flowing as she walked or oversized white sunglasses — mesmerized a young Godlis and compelled him to run after her. He snapped just two shots in the process.

Decades later, she remained one of his most memorable photos taken during that trip. The famed punk photographer recently posted the image on his Instagram page where a follower pointed out the oversized sunglasses the mystery woman was wearing were by designer Oliver Goldsmith.

“When I learned that, I thought, Of course I would chase her down a parking lot,” he says, laughing. “I didn’t have enough fashion knowledge to know she was wearing designer sunglasses that were that hip, but I knew enough to know they would look great in a photograph.”

All the photos featured in Godlis Miami were taken over the course of just ten days in 1974. The New Yorker was visiting family and helping his grandmother move apartments in Miami Beach. In between packing boxes, he’d go out and explore.

“I wandered down Lincoln Road, over to Ocean Drive, up and down Washington Avenue,” he says, excitement evident in his voice. “And then I took my grandmother’s car and went out to the Seaquarium. At night I went to the dog tracks by the pier at South Pointe. Everything at the time seemed interesting to me.”

His grandparents had retired to Miami in the 1950s. Godlis has many memories of visiting South Florida during the winter months with his family. It was like a home away from home, he says. Like a warm blanket on a chilly day, his memories of visiting Miami Beach as a kid still bring him comfort after all these years.

“When I was writing the introduction for the book, it occurred to me why these pictures were so personal,” he explains.

It would also explain why the dozens of images from that time in the early 1970s were rarely shared. When Godlis was working on a book about his street photography, Godlis Streets, he unearthed the black-and-white images from Miami Beach and thought to include them in that 2020 book.

His publisher had a different idea.

“Doing [a Miami book] gave me the chance to finally acknowledge that what I shot back then sort of started my life in photography,” Godlis says. “It pointed me in the direction I needed to go, and it gave me the confidence to go forward.”

When he returned to college after his time in Miami, Godlis had a bagful of film. He headed straight for the darkroom and began to develop. As figures began to emerge from the chemical-filled water, Godlis admits with a chuckle that he stunned even himself.

“Even now, I can’t believe that I got such an extraordinary amount of good pictures in that short amount of time, as young as I was,” he says.

In the years that followed, Godlis would finish school, move to New York City, and immerse himself in the street photography scene. He’s a celebrated street photographer — with a penchant for the punk scene — who has photographed the likes of the Ramones, Blondie, and even filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

Despite his success, the humble 70-year-old points to that trip to Miami in his twenties as the moment that granted him the confidence he needed to follow his dreams. Whenever Godlis returns to Miami, he finds himself walking down the pavement, underneath the shade of the palm trees, his feet leading him down familiar streets to all his old haunts.

“I go back to that little Century Hotel on Ocean Drive, and I stay there again. You still make your way to the little places that are still there,” Godlis says. “If you’re a photographer, you get the picture while it’s there because you know everything is going to [eventually] be gone.”

Godlis Miami. By David Godlis. Reel Art Press. 2021. 159 pages. Hardcover, $32.79.

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